When was the last time you felt lost in your career? How do you cope with not knowing what step to take next? Well, looking back might help!
There are only four months left until I graduate in computer science.
But I'm not ready. I'm lost.
To be precise, I'm at a crossroads.
There are so many paths to walk. And yet none is suitable at the same time.
Looking forward gives me anxiety.
So I thought I would take a look back and highlight the lessons I learned along the way.
This article is for those who need to pause, breathe and decide what their next career step would be.
I first stumbled on HTML like a shojo manga heroine.
I have been playing with computers since I was about ten years old. I discovered blogging platforms soon after and started a blog of my own.
The truth is that I spent more time tweaking its design than writing anything.
And that's when the magic happened.
I pressed the F12 key, and I saw a wall of colourful gibberish. I copy-pasted the beast into the search bar and learned that the intriguing creature was called HTML.
My love for coding started there and will only grow deeper every year.
1. Be curious
My curiosity is what got me started. My ability to be amazed by small things kept me going.
2. Learn to be your best cheerleader
And being able to pat myself on the back when I did well led me even further.
It allowed me to spend nights and weekends writing bad code that works.
That's what kept the spark alive and allowed me to be perseverant while I brute-forced my way into web development.
But I went to study applied arts.
My father is a painter and a comic book artist, so I grew up surrounded by art supplies. My siblings and I naturally developed an interest in art in every way, shape, or form.
Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash
In middle school, I wanted to study cinematography and become a movie director.
I took "social sciences and economics" in High school (French education system) because my mother owned a grocery store in my childhood.
I then went to university to study applied arts because in my mind it summed up to this :
- I love HTML and CSS
- I had an artistic upbringing, and I love graphic design
- I'm interested in entrepreneurship
- = I will be a freelance web designer!
I set my mind on studying art for so many years that I wanted to try and see for myself if it would suit me.
Despite teachers and friends telling me it's better to make the right decision from the start, I didn't want to have regrets.
I thought: if it doesn't work out, I'll find something else. So I walked that path for a year.
1. Your job should be satisfying at the very least
I tried hard to find an academic path and career that would fulfill most of my interests at various degrees.
Ensuring that your professional life brings you, if not happiness, satisfaction is a healthy thing to do.
That prevented me from making do with feeling burned out and miserable when I realized down the line that I took the wrong path.
2. You're the only one who knows what's right for you
I listened to others' opinions, but I believed in my judgment more than others about what was right for me.
3. Try to avoid regrets
The fear of having regrets is healthy as long as it doesn't turn into FOMO (fear of missing out).
I can never thank my past self enough for sparing me from wondering what my life would have looked like had I studied art. I tried that, realized it wasn't for me, and pivoted.
Taking that step to the side allowed me to be 100% confident in my decision to pursue computer science.
Then I came back to my senses.
Midway through the first year of art school, I realized I spent all my free time taking yet another online web development course. I also always found a way to make every school project about creative programming. I took a step back.
Why am I studying art?
I should be in a computer science program!
So I enrolled in a CS course the following year.
1. It's never too late to pivot
Be attentive to how you feel on the path you're walking. Facing hurdles is normal but are you on the right track? Don't be afraid to change if the answer is no.
So I became a computer science student.
I received a traditional computer engineering education: C and Java, object-oriented programming, database management, networks, and embedded systems to cite a few.
I realized I was ahead on web development. So I took advanced online programming courses to avoid being bored.
And I started taking freelance gigs in my second year of engineering school.
I had humanities classes as well, among which were law, project management, and cognitive sciences. But, having studied economics before, I felt I didn't have enough of them.
So I enrolled in a master's in management in a business school while studying computer science, making it a dual degree.
I also had my heart set on doing an internship in Montreal, Canada. But it got cancelled last minute due to Visa issues. I was devasted.
1. You're responsible for your technical skills
If you feel your classes aren't advanced enough or your company doesn't provide enough learning resources, nothing stops you from taking online courses to fill the knowledge gap.
I'm a huge supporter of online courses because that's how I learned everything.
Programming isn't a passive activity. You must get your hands dirty and sweat alone in a corner to get better at it.
2. Soft skills matter!
Many CS students consider humanities to be a waste of time. They're wrong.
Working in tech, even as a developer, isn't always about pissing code as we say in French ("pisser du code").
You need to communicate well, manage your project, and work efficiently in a team.
You also need to know the basic laws you're expected to obey in your field: personal data protection and source code licensing to cite a few.
And I can assure you that my master's in management and fluency in 4 languages always set me apart during interviews!
3. Everything comes at the right time ("Chaque chose en son temps")
Not being able to go to Canada when I had everything planned was soul-crushing.
I had my acceptance letter, secured a scholarship, booked my flight tickets, and subscribed to many French expatriates' YouTube channels.
But looking back, I wasn't ready to go on such a trip on my own. That would have been my first time travelling alone. And I chose the other side of the world. 😂
And I went to see if the grass was greener elsewhere.
Speaking that many languages, I want to build an international career.
When Covid hit Europe in 2020, I swore nothing would stop me from sticking to my perfectly crafted academic achievements checklist.
I completed a 5-month internship in London, UK.
The artificial intelligence specialty in my school didn't meet my expectations. So I managed to do a 6-month exchange semester to study AI in Barcelona, Spain.
1. Push your limits and keep your eyes open for opportunities
I also travelled because I started to feel insecure about the future.
I forced myself to be open to all sorts of experiences while abroad. I went out of my comfort zone in many ways.
I ended up taking an interest in research while in Barcelona. And, loving my classes there, I started thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. in computer vision.
2. Not everything is bad where you come from
Funnily enough, even though I grew up in Paris, I felt France was somewhat dull, uninteresting - except for museums - and full of tourists.
Photo by Young Shih on Unsplash
It took travelling to foreign countries to fully understand why there are so many tourists crowding the country at all times.
France truly is a beautiful country. I'm unimpressed because I'm used to it.
The grass is greener elsewhere in some aspects, but in others home does it better.
I feel more serene having written this article. The clarity I got from looking back is impressive.
What I now envision as possible next steps :
- Pursue a Ph.D. in computer vision / AI,
- Work in Canada for a year if I'm not accepted,
- or join a big tech company and make lots of money
There are so many options! But I don't feel as overwhelmed as before.
What about you?
Would you look back at your journey and share your insights in the comments? Did you learn something valuable from this article?
I would love to exchange on this topic in the comments section! 😁
Top comments (9)
Thank you Geneviève for sharing this! As a beginner, your lessons learned are totally valuable.
This article is elegantly crafted, well done! 👏🏾
I'm so sorry you couldn't move to Canada.
I can imagine you were devastated.
I would have felt deeply sad too! 😭
But overall, it looks like everything has gone well and perhaps it wasn't the right time for you to move to Canada.
I have a feeling you'll be able to do that in the future, though.
I love your story and I wish you all the best. ❤️
Thank you for stopping by! That may be the biggest life lesson I've learned so far : everything comes at the right time. It's crazy how we want things we aren't ready for, and yet we end up getting them later in time or in another form. 😄
That was a beautifully written article. I am in the final year of my degree too , so many options to chose from . But reading about your experience gave me some clarity too.
Thank you, I'm glad to know it was useful ! If you don't mind sharing, I'd love to know what path(s) you're considering. 😄
Thanks for sharing your experience. I already understand how different your journey is.
Thank you for reading ! I wanted to share a different perspective since most of the articles I read here on the same topic are American. 😄
Glad to hear it ! Thanks for stopping by. 😄